Hyd has a plan to fix nalas — but the city flooded, thanks to delay in implementation

The Strategic Nala Development Plan (SNDP) was announced in November 2020, after which surveys and planning took place, and reports were submitted. But so far, no substantial work has been carried out.
Two motorists crossing a flooded bridge
Two motorists crossing a flooded bridge
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This is the first among several stories from TNM that will highlight the inundation, flooding and other consequences of heavy rains in Hyderabad. TNM hopes to draw attention to these issues, which have now become perennial in many areas of the city, by talking to experts, officials and more.

After heavy rains pounded Hyderabad last October and resulted in widespread flooding in many areas, the Telangana government announced a Strategic Nala Development Plan (SNDP). The strategy was to strengthen the existing stormwater drain network and set up new drains to tackle the urban flooding. A government order (GO) was released in April 2021 granting administrative permission for release of funds. The GO mentioned that nearly 40,000 families were affected due to the deficiencies in the existing stormwater drainage system.

The GO read, “SNDP carried out detailed study of the existing nala and stormwater drainage system and has identified critical narrow points, encroachments on nalas, trunk mains, feeder nalas among other issues and submitted a detailed report to take up all the works on a mission mode. These include crucial works in peripheral Urban Local Bodies as well.”

The latest development is a comprehensive meeting held in the first week of October, presided over by Minister KT Rama Rao, and officials from the irrigation, revenue, engineering departments and from the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA). A source who attended the meeting revealed to TNM that the purpose of the meeting was to rethink the strategy of the SNDP.

“In the last one year, each and every drain in the city was taken up, a drone survey done, measurements taken, and then a report was submitted after due deliberations about what can be done as part of the SNDP project. The strategy was to bring about changes to every nala in the city, especially those in highly dense areas. However, in the recent meeting it was decided that areas with regular flooding and stretches that need immediate attention would be given precedence and works will be taken up there on priority,” revealed the source.

According to the source, all the zonal commissioners were present in the meeting. Each commissioner zeroed in on three to five stretches in their zone based on areas that are facing the wrath of the rains during every rain. Altogether around 25-30 stretches have been shortlisted by the commissioners. The nalas in these stretches will be given utmost priority.

The SNDP was announced in November last year, following which surveys, extensive research and planning took place, and reports were submitted zone-wise. Based on the reports, a feasibility report was prepared and submitted to the government. But so far, no substantial work has been carried out as part of SNDP. “The planning, surveying and deciding the masterplan took time. Administrative sanction of the first phase of funds happened in April this year. Now work will start as soon as the rains are over,” the source stated.

Why experts say SNDP will not work

Calling the SNDP a fraud, Dr Lubna Sarwath, ecological activist and co-convenor of SOUL – Save Our Urban Lakes, asked why the government is not focusing on clearing encroachments from lakes which she says is the actual problem.

Speaking to TNM, she said, “SNDP is a currency-driven, contract-driven and corruption-driven fraud on the people of Hyderabad. It is totally built around how a contract can be given to certain people. It is not a solution to the problem. The volume and the holding capacity of the lakes in Hyderabad have been compromised, how is the government telling the people that it is the nalas in the city that have to be expanded? Nalas only carry water. It is the lakes that retain the water. Encroachments from lakes need to be cleared. The government has not mentioned anything about clearing encroachments, they only speak about SNDP.”

Over the last few years, Hyderabad has been witnessing heavy rainfall and at more frequent intervals. Certain pockets in the city are in the news for inundation every time it rains. Visuals of cars floating in Attapur and Upparpally, located below the PVNR Expressway, surfaced last year as well as this year. Appa Cheruvu overflowed on the highway during the rains last year as well as last week, when Hyderabad witnessed severe rains. Several colonies in Saroornagar, Champapet, Meerpet, Hayathnagar, LB Nagar, Abdullapurmet, Rajendranagar, Chandrayangutta and other areas witnessed flooding last year as well as this year. Why is this happening?

According to Dr SP Anchuri, Vice President, Structural Engineers World Congress-India, haphazard planning is a major issue. “Often the initiatives are good but the way they are executed becomes the issue. In several areas, the dividers are made of concrete and this acts as a barrier for the water. Water has to flow from one side to another. Normally, dividers have gaps between them but today we see continuous dividers. Sometimes there is no gap for several kilometres. Though this may be to ensure that people don’t cross and obstruct the traffic, it ends up causing waterlogging. This isn’t the issue in just the area under the PVNR Expressway, it is a problem in several localities. When there is waterlogging, officials try to make holes in the dividers for the water to flow. This is a major problem,” Dr Anchuri explained to TNM.

“Hyderabad has many contours. It is a challenge to maintain it, but being an old city today it is being redeveloped and redesigned. The problems are not new but various ways are being adopted to find solutions to these problems,” Dr Anchuri added.

RRR strategy

While addressing the Legislative Assembly in the first week of October, Minister KT Rama Rao spoke about the government’s RRR strategy to find a solution to the flooding.

“The nalas have to be widened. For this RRR strategy is being taken up. Remove the encroachments, rehabilitate people and retain nala width is the RRR strategy. The government is also planning to relocate the people living on nalas to 2-BHK houses,” the Minister informed the house.

Feasibility report not made public

Interestingly, when TNM asked officials for the feasibility report that was submitted to the government, they said they had been instructed not to make it public until further orders. When TNM reached out to SNDP Chief Engineer C Vasantha to enquire about the feasibility report, she said, “The report is not in the public domain. We have submitted it to the government.”

A highly placed source told TNM, “The report has details about encroachments and many other details found in the surveys. The government doesn’t want to publish it yet. It will be made public when the right time comes.” However, Dr Lubna vehemently opposed the idea of not making the report public.

She told TNM, “I repeatedly insisted on getting a copy of the report. Despite that it was not given to me. The report has not been released to the public. When something is hidden, it is not bonafide, it is malafide. No one knows what has been recommended and no one knows if anything has been implemented because the report is not public. When I repeatedly kept asking, I was told not to ask for it again.”

Dr Anchuri also opined that such reports should be in the public domain. He said, “This isn’t an internal matter. Details of any public property should be in the public domain. It isn’t even a matter of security. Why are the details not being made public? While studies and surveys are being carried out, the authorities should be given a free hand. But when reports are submitted, it should be made public. The people have the right to know the details as public money is being invested. In fact, in other countries such reports are published and public opinion is invited. There are several experts outside the departments as well who can contribute by giving their insights.”

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